- Ergot could be called a "cereal killer" for it comes from cereals such as rye and wheat and is quite capable of killing someone. A fungus (Claviceps purpurea) that contaminates rye and wheat produces substances (alkaloids) termed ergotamines. Ergotamines constrict blood vessels and cause the muscle of the uterus to contract. They have been much used and been very useful for the treatment of migraine. They have also been used and misused as abortifacients (agents of abortion). In excess, however, ergotamines can cause symptoms such as hallucinations, severe gastrointestinal upset, a type of dry gangrene, and a painful burning sensation in the limbs and extremities. Chronic ergot poisoning (ergotism) was rife during the Middle Ages due to the consumption of contaminated rye. Because of the burning pain, it was known as "ignis sacer" (holy fire), "ignis infernalis" (hell's fire) and St. Anthony's fire. For more about this fascinating disease, see our article on St. Anthony's Fire — Ergotism .
* * *The resistant, overwintering stage of the parasitic ascomycetous fungus Claviceps purpurea, a pathogen of rye grass that transforms the seed of rye into a compact spurlike mass of fungal pseudotissue (the sclerotium) containing five or more optically isomeric pairs of alkaloids. The levorotary isomers induce uterine contractions, control bleeding, and alleviate certain localized vascular disorders (migraine headaches). SEE ALSO: ergotism. SYN: rye smut. [O. Fr. argot, cock's spur]- corn e. SYN: Ustilago maydis.
* * *er·got 'ər-gət, -.gät n1 a) the black or dark purple sclerotium of fungi of the genus Claviceps that occurs as a club-shaped body which replaces the seed of various grasses (as rye)b) any fungus of the genus Claviceps2) a disease of rye and other cereals caused by fungi of the genus Claviceps and characterized by the presence of ergots in the seed heads compare ERGOTISM3 a) the dried sclerotial bodies of an ergot fungus grown on rye and containing several ergot alkaloidsb) ERGOT ALKALOIDer·got·ic (.)ər-'gät-ik adj
* * *n.a fungus (Claviceps purpurea) that grows on rye. It produces several important alkaloids, chemically related to LSD, including ergotamine and ergometrine, which are used in medicine in the treatment of migraine and in childbirth. Eating bread made with rye infected with the fungus has led to sporadic outbreaks of ergotism over the centuries.
* * *er·got (urґgot) [Fr.; L. ergota] 1. the dried sclerotium of Claviceps purpurea, which is developed on rye plants (Secale cereale); it is the source of the ergot alkaloids (q.v.). 2. a small mass of horn in the tuft of hair at the flexion surface of the fetlock in horses.
Medical dictionary. 2011.